Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shepastor: “Becoming Irrelevant or Do We Just Have it Too Good? Attitudes Toward ‘Church’ Today…”

18“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." Matthew 16:8, NASB

“Your problem is that you’ve got it too good…” I can still hear my Dad speaking those words to me as I (a teenager at the time) complained, moaned and or groaned about this or that. He would go on to share with me the difficulties he experienced as a child and as a young person, growing up in painful and poor conditions. He was trying to help me understand that appreciation often is an outgrowth of having experienced the pain of the opposite.

I’m wondering if modern day American Christians are not victims of the “you’ve got it too good” syndrome. I’ve qualified Christians with “American” because in general, in our Nation (to God be the glory) we are free to practice our faith where ever we want, whenever we want and basically, however we want. We’ve read the statistics about severely declining church attendance. We’ve heard the chatter that “the local church is dying…people have lost interest in the local church…we’ve got to find a new way to ‘do’ church or it will disappear…it has become irrelevant…people are no longer interested in coming to church…”

Interestingly, in other parts of the world where “the Church,” (big “C” and little “c”) is being persecuted, the church is thriving. In places where Christians are denied Bibles, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, abused etc., the Church and the church is growing in record numbers. People in those circumstances are clamoring to hear the Word of God, secretly assembling for prayer and a message of salvation, hope, inspiration and empowerment from the Holy writ.

No praise band, no entertaining and flowery words, no gimmicks, no twitter accounts or websites, no catchy themes or colorful banners or “hot cards,”…yet they thrive. By word of mouth and compelling testimony, they draw others to “come and dine.” Some meet in caves. Some meet in crude make shift sheds. Some meet in valleys. Some meet in damp, dark basements. Some meet in obscure patches of trees…yet they are vibrant, “sold-out,” risking literally life and limb to go. To them, “church/Church,” is not an option, a tradition, a thing to check off of a “to-do” list, a place to do social networking…for them, “church/Church” is the life-blood of their existence. This is not because of the institution, but because they hunger and thirst for the relationship with Christ and other believers.

May we realize the beauty and blessing of what we have in both the “Big C and the little c.” May we value the gifts and talents that the Lord has given to the body of Christ to heal, free and give sight. May we get back to the basics of preaching and teaching the life, love and salvation offered through Jesus Christ and speak more respectfully and appreciatively of the Bride that Christ died for.

Irrelevant? Dying? Boring? Out of touch? Maybe we've got it too good. Maybe what we need is a good dose of persecution. It would be interesting to see how many of those terms would then apply.

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Be blessed on your Lenten journey of repentance, reflection and rededication.

Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Shepastor: “Revisiting the Meaning of Lent…”

23Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139: 23-24, KJV

Today is Ash Wednesday – the official beginning of the Lenten Season. When I was a little girl, I remember “fasting” from candy and other delectables for forty days. Every Friday we ate fish. On Sundays, no secular music and excessive talking until after 12:00 noon! Every Good Friday we went to mass at 3:00 p.m., the time believed to be when Christ uttered the words, “It is finished” (I was raised Catholic). “Easter Saturday” was to be a somber, reverential day. Oh but on Sunday, we tore into our carefully crafted Easter baskets filled with colorful jelly beans, dyed boiled eggs, chocolate bunnies and crosses and yellow marshmallow chicks!

My dad ensured that we had “hot cross buns” and other sweet rolls or coffee cakes for breakfast. The fast was finally over – hallelujah! For sure, the adults understood the deeper meaning of this Lenten season. For us kids, it was mostly about getting through forty days without delicious sweets!
As I reflect upon those days, I realize that we lacked a depth level explanation and understanding of what true repentance looks like. I believe that many still lack understanding today. Below is a beautiful explanation of the meaning and purpose of Lent, taken from an article entitled, “The Liturgical Structure of Lent.” Consider…

The Liturgical Structure of Lent

To understand the various liturgical particularities of the Lenten period, we must remember that they express and convey to us the spiritual meaning of Lent and are related to the central idea of Lent, to its function in the liturgical life of the Church. It is the idea of repentance. In the teaching of the Orthodox Church however, repentance means much more than a mere enumeration of sins and transgressions to the priest. Confession and absolution are but the result, the fruit, the "climax" of true repentance. And, before this result can be reached, become truly valid and meaningful, one must make a spiritual effort, go through a long period of preparation and purification. Repentance, in the Orthodox acceptance of this word, means a deep, radical reevaluation of our whole life, of all our ideas, judgments, worries, mutual relations, etc. It applies not only to some "bad actions," but to the whole of life, and is a Christian judgment passed on it, on its basic presuppositions. At every moment of our life, but especially during Lent, the Church invites us to concentrate our attention on the ultimate values and goals, to measure ourselves by the criteria of Christian teaching, to contemplate our existence in its relation to God. This is repentance and it consists therefore, before everything else, in the acquisition of the Spirit of repentance, i.e., of a special state of mind, a special disposition of our conscience and spiritual vision.
The Russian Orthodox Journal, March, 1959, pp. 6-8

During this Lenten Season, may we do more than refrain from special types of food. May we dare to spend time in deep reflection, contemplation, and spiritual renewal. May we allow the Holy Spirit to give us a “spiritual check-up.” May we ask the Lord to “search our hearts, try our thoughts, see if there be any wicked way in us and lead us in the way everlasting.”

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Shepastor: “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You…”

20 And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:21 neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17: 20-21 (ASV)

The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You…

Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. How could that be? What does ‘Kingdom Living’ mean?

Let’s consider the "BE SCRIPTURES…"

John 3:3 “Be Born Again”

3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:18 “Be filled with the Spirit”

18Stop getting [g] drunk with wine, which leads to wild living, but keep on being filled with the Spirit.

I Peter 1: 13b; 15-16 “Be self-controlled, Be Holy”

13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Ephesians 4: 23, 26, 32 Be…

- “Be renewed in your mental attitude”
- “Be angry, yet do not sin”
- “Be kind to one another”

23to be renewed in your mental attitude,
. 26“Be angry, yet do not sin.”
32And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another just as God has forgiven you [n] in the Messiah.

Romans 12: 2 “Be Transformed”

2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Galatians 6:7 “Don’t be misled”

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant

Proverbs 13: 20 “Be wise”

Whoever walks with wise people will be wise, but whoever associates with fools will suffer.

Philippians 2:5 “Be like Jesus”
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Jeremiah 17: 7-8 “Trust God – be like a tree”

7“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
8He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

I Corinthians 15:58 “Be Steadfast”

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord…”

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Joshua 1: 7-9 “Be…
- strong and courageous
- careful to obey
- that you may be prosperous & successful
- do not be terrified
- do not be discouraged
7Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Galatians 6: 4-5 “Be Responsible”

4Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Romans 12:18 “Be at Peace”

18 As far as it is possible for you be at peace with all men.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Be not anxious”

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Revelation 2:10c “Be Faithful”

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the victor's crown of life.

The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Shepastor: "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?"

1Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.2And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.3Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.4No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of [this] life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. II Timothy 2: 1-4, KJV

The great hymnologist Sir Isaac Watts penned these haunting words…

1. Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
2. Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
3. Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
4. Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

On the heels of many civil rights memorials and in preparation for the Lenten season, we as the people of God should be reminded of the sacrificial nature of Christian discipleship. There are costs associated with being a “soldier of the cross.” While many literally gave their lives to “make this world a better place,” God calls others to continue to live out their lives in a manner that is sacrificial in different ways.

At times we must choose between popularity and speaking the truth in love. At times we must stand with the minority for a just cause. Other times we may feel like “a voice crying in the wilderness.”

Whether we are preaching to multitudes like Peter or like Noah, building arks for refuge while others laugh or assisting with making tents like Pricilla and Aquilla, our assignments have been given by God. May we have the courage, the faith, the obedience and the perseverance to remain clear about our assignments. May we seek always to please our “enlisting officer.”

The Way
To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way,
And the High Soul climbs the High Way,
And the Low Soul gropes the Low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
To rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way, and a Low.
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go.

John Oxenham

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris